Monday, February 24, 2014

Drop Dead Stevie!

Come The Shortening, we like to take chances here at the Doll's House. Note that 'taking chances' really just means 'watching something that might possibly have a vertically challenged villain streaming on Netflix Instant.'

I'm a wild one.

Quick Plot: Claire and Adrian are a well-to-do couple with some secret heartbreak residing in an impossibly awesome three-story home. They're thrilled to adopt Isabel, a pleasant little girl with some darkness in her own past. Before you can say Is This An Orphan Sequel?, Claire discovers her own Isabel may have brought a menacing imaginary friend into their lives.

It's fairly simple to guess where things go from here. Well-intentioned but too logical husband thinks Claire is going crazy? Check. Social worker checks in with terrible backstory on seemingly angelic daughter? Check. Distrusting grandma? Check. Careers being damaged? You betcha!

A lot of the turns are spelled out like an alphabetical magnet set on a refrigerator (literally, in some junctures) but that doesn't necessarily take anything away from this surprisingly taut little thriller. As Claire, Catherine McCormack is somewhat stuck with the same role shaken through by Mia Farrow, Ellen Burstyn, and even Vera Farmiga, but like those actresses, she has a wonderfully strong presence that easily sells her stakes. 

Stevie is directed by Bryan Goeres, who has mostly worked in television save for a rather glaring second unit credit for Anna Nicole Smith's infamous Skyscraper (to quote Lifetime's biopic, "the movie is called Skyscraper. It takes place in a skyscraper"). Despite the somewhat confusing, sort of addressed oddness of every character speaking with a different accent, Goeres does some very sleek work in building tension around what evil force is after Isabel and Claire. Writer David Markus (whose even MORE exciting IMDB resume includes credits for the Sweet Valley High TV series, of whose theme song I sing every other day or so) gets stuck with a few of the same old patterns (particularly with the husband character) but a few third act mysteries involving the possible source of Isabel's unwanted pal take the film on an interesting path.

What's most successful about Stevie is that it's ultimately a very earnest film. Claire and Adrian are good people who really want to give the charming Isabel a loving home. Even secondary characters like Adrian's stuffy mother prove to be much, well, NICER than a lazier film may have made them. We like these people, and therefore, want the titular imaginary friend/ghost/invisible demon to simply leave them alone. That he doesn't makes us as tense as we should be.

High Points
Creepy crayon drawings man. They always get me

Low Points
I'm not sure if this is a spoiler, because I was never quite sure how much of it I was supposed to know: see, Stevie plays a little with its timeline, something that isn't explicitly said, but seems clear enough. But maybe it's not supposed to be? We eventually get a rather important, long-teased out reveal, but I can't quite decide if the occasionally confusing time jumps is supposed to serve that

Lessons Learned
Garbage disposals are awesome, unless you happen to be residing in a horror film where they will inevitably cause doom

In mystery European land where everyone has their own accent, barbecues are generally held in chilly weather that requires autumn jackets

Even the most loving German Shepard will scoff at an unwanted imaginary friend

Stevie isn't necessarily that special a film, but it's executed well enough to make its 90 minute running time worth a dive. The film packs a few genuinely effective scares and is served by a strong cast that overcomes some of the more predictable plot points. If you're in the mood for something solid, if not shockingly game changing, here you go.

Shortening Cred: Any specifics could be spoilery, so we'll just add up what you already know from the Netflix description--creepy little girl, imaginary friend, letter magnets--to say yes, this qualifies. 

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